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The Causey Mounth

The name ‘mounth’ is an Anglicised form of the Gaelic, monadh, which translates as moor, heath or mountains. This term is still used in mountain ranges like the Monadhliath to the west of the A9 and the Monadh Ruadh to the east, now more commonly known as the Cairngorms.  Time slowly corrupts language, however, and today ‘mounth’ usually refers to a passage through the mountains rather than the range itself. Thus, the series of passes through the eastern section of the Grampian mountains are commonly called the Mounth Passes.  They are the Cairn O’Mounth, the Capel Mounth, the Causey Mounth, the Elsick Mounth, the Firmounth, the Tolmounth, the Bulig Mounth, and the Stock Mounth.  The Causey Mounth was also known in the medieval era as the Cowie Mounth on account of its southern terminus.

The Causey Mounth is an ancient trackway spanning the coastal Mounth spur of the Grampian Mountains in Kincardineshire, Scotland. The route is intimately connected to settlement and ancient monuments of the Pictish peoples of this area dating to 2000 BC. This track was developed as the main drovers' road and highway connecting Stonehaven and Aberdeen at least as early as the 12th century AD, and it continued to function as the chief route between these two cities until the mid 1900s, when modern highway construction of the A90 road transpired.. The geometry of this track is a series of linear segments with remarkable consistency in the north/south direction, given the undulating terrain fraught with extensive bogs. The track was constructed with enormous boulders providing a foundation through peaty and swampy terrain. There are some extant paved and usable sections of this road over part of the alignment; however, many parts of the prehistoric route are no more than footpaths, and in some cases the road vanishes into agricultural fields. Constructed in the Middle Ages, the Causey Mounth was created as an elevated rock causeway to span many of the boggy areas such as the Portlethen Moss. A portion of the alignment of the Causey Mounth is illustrated on the UK Ordinance Survey Map. (Landranger, 2004) although a large section of the route cannot be navigated by a conventional passenger vehicle such as the ford at the Burn of Pheppie.

Pre-History. The Causey Mounth is associated with a series of prehistoric monuments including cairns, stone circles and standing stones. The Causey Mounth may have indeed been the natural connection amongst these coastal sites of the ancient Pictish peoples, who arrived locally about 2000 BC to farm the fertile hillsides. Some of the major monuments of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages lying along the route are Cantlayhills Cairn, Kempstone Hill standing stones, Hilton of Cairngrassie standing stone, Old Bourtreebush stone circle, Aquhorthies stone circle, Auchlee Cairn, Auchlee stone circle, Cairnwell ring cairn and Craighead Badentoy stone circle.

 

[games.gif]Roman to Medieval. Viewed by the Romans, the Mounth, or easternmost range of the Grampian Mountains, posed a formidable terrestrial barrier isolating the Northeast of Scotland from the Scottish Lowlands. This mountainous barrier, combined with the local bogs, was a factor in determining the Romans' coastal march northward from the Raedykes Roman Camp.  The Romans chose a more inland route to avoid the boggy undulating terrain of the Mounth. Several scholars suggest that Mons Graupius, the earliest recorded battle in Scottish history in 83 AD, occurred on Megray or Kempstone Hill, essentially along the Causey Mounth. A review of the Tacitus account of Mons Graupius supports the location of the battle in this vicinity, since Tacitus references the signalling communication with the Roman Fleet and the Battle site lying between a Roman camp (Raedykes) and a coastal hill. Furthermore, one of the four greatest Roman coin hoards of silver denarii was found at Megray Hill near the Causey Mounth.

By the 12th century AD construction of the Causey Mounth had begun to connect these two regions of Highlands and Lowlands; in these early times the only structures along the route were Dunnottar Castle (to the south); Cowie Castle guarding the southern terminus; the Chapel of St Nathalan along the coast somewhat to the east of the Causey Mounth and Gillybrands coaching inn. It is not unlikely that there was also an ancient hillfort at the site of Muchalls Castle, pre-dating the Fraser towerhouse.

Gillybrands is an historic coaching inn and present day farm steading near Cammachmore. It was operating as a coaching inn along the ancient Causey Mounth drovers' road as early as the twelfth century AD, and original stone foundations from that era are extant. Other nearby historic structures are Elsick House, St. Ternan's Church and Muchalls Castle.

General Route. The route was specifically designed to connect the coastal portion of Stonehaven to a crossing of the River Dee at the southern edge of present day Aberdeen. Stonehaven was most noted in the Middle Ages for the fortress of Dunnottar Castle, controlling land and sea movements of military might from its rugged promontory jutting into the North Sea. This fortress along with Cowie Castle at the north of Stonehaven effectively checked all coastal land and sea movements to the north. Proceeding north from Cowie Castle, the Causey Mounth climbs the Hill of Megray and passes over Kempstone Hill before crossing the Burn of Muchalls at the Bridge of Muchalls; thence it proceeds norhward past Muchalls Castle. The route north of Muchalls Castle was that taken by William Keith, 7th Earl Marischal and the Marquess of Montrose when they led a Covenanter army of 9000 men in the first battle of the Civil War in 1639 after marshalling at Muchalls Castle.  The route passes the ruins of the Episcopal Chapels, dating to 1624 situated on lands of the Muchalls Castle Estate, and thence northerly beside the present day Saint Ternan's Church, which is the successor facility to the ruined chapels of Muchalls Castle.

North of St. Ternan's Church, the Causey Mounth proceeds briefly as a paved road, but quickly turns to an earthen track becoming muddier until the Burn of Pheppie is crossed via a small wooden footbridge. The elevation rises passing Nether Cairnhill steading on the west. Now the elevation rises steadily along the earthen track for another 500 meters until the ridge top of Windyedge is met. The Causey Mounth proceeds straight across a paved road (the Newtonhill Cookney Road). Continuing north the track now descends for 700 meters until it crosses the Burn of Elsick via an old stone bridge. Now proceeding north the unpaved track becomes less boggy and passes Gillybrands steading on the west approximately 150 meters north of the Burn of Elsick.

Around 200 meters north of Gillybrands is the access drive to Elsick House, an historic manor house owned by the Duke of Fife. The walker proceeds straight across the paved highway as the Causey Mounth leads in to a view of the large Cairngrassie standing stone in an agricultural field on the east side of the Causey Mounth. Further north on the Bourtreebush Estate, the route passes by the Old Bourtreebush stone circle and eventually reaches Badentoy. A part of this ancient road is still in paved public use today from Badentoy, past Banchory-Devenick crossroads to the South Deeside road. Originally a ferry would have conveyed medieval travellers across the Dee.

The route fell out of use in the 18th century as more direct and faster roads were built by the growing stagecoach industry. Today the Causey Mounth is roughly split into thirds where one third is in the modern road network, one third is a mixture of paths and farm tracks and the final third is lost to fields and may only exist as field boundaries.

Walking the Mounth

Bestand:Easter Aquhorthies Stone Circle 02.jpgThe route starts off as an accessible path running alongside Leggart Terrace, just south of the Bridge of Dee, before being incorporated into the modern road network between Hilldowntree and Badentoy Park. Along this busy section the road passes the tellingly named Causeyport Farm. The Causey Port, or gate, was the site on which a toll was once exacted on the road.

Before you reach Badentoy Park the route passes Brodie Wood, Cairnfield, where there is a mysterious collection of 26 small cairns. Two stone circles also flank the route, one near to Badentoy Park and one at Aquhorthies. A prehistoric standing stone can also be seen at New Bourtreebush.

The rest of the pass, from Badentoy Park to St Ternan’s Church, consists of either footpath or access road for farms. This 5.5 km section is the best part for walking as it is largely free from vehicular traffic. This walk offers a pleasant day in the countryside with an interesting historical component to boot.

A little beyond Badentoy is a farm with the unusual name of Gillybrands. This was once the site of the Jeally Brans Inn, seen on Taylor & Skinner’s survey of North Britain from 1776. Like ‘Grampian mountains’ and the ‘Causey Mounth’ itself, Gillybrands farm is a victim of the gradual shifting of language over time.

Beyond St Ternan’s Church, the path of the Causey Mounth is unclear. The final third of the route – which once continued to Stonehaven by Cowie – can be approximated by walking along field boundaries, but is now mostly lost to fields.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013